LOS ANGELES — In planning his hometown survey, which opens on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art here, Doug Aitken decided early on that he also wanted to develop a separate site-specific art project to reach beyond museum walls. But instead of going into the desert to find a site, as so many West Coast artists have done, he went the other direction: entering the Pacific Ocean for his first underwater art installation.
Mr. Aitken has just finished designing and fabricating three mirrored “pavilions,” flashy geometric structures that are to be suspended next month underwater in a kelp-rich marine preserve off the touristy town of Avalon on Catalina Island, which is about one hour by ferry from the mainland. The idea is for snorkelers and divers to swim around and through the cavelike structures, set with the help of moorings at depths of five, 10 and 50 feet. Fish are welcome too.
About half of the pavilions’ surfaces are mirrored to create kaleidoscopic visual effects. The rest consists of a craggy composite material designed to resemble lava rock and be hospitable to sea animals and plants.
Best known as a video artist who experiments with radically expanded or fragmented screens, Mr. Aitken calls the new project an alternative to the grand gestures of earthwork artists like Michael Heizer. “So much land art is monumental, static,” he said. “I’m interested more in artworks that are continuously changing or evolving — artworks as living systems.”
In 2001, Mr. Aitken filled various rooms of the Serpentine Gallery in London with a film, “New Ocean,” that used underwater footage to abstract effects. And in 2011 he situated his video installation “Black Mirror” on a moving barge near Hydra, Greece, to underscore the perpetual motion and rootlessness of the main character, played by Chloë Sevigny. For the new project, backed by the environmental group Parley for the Oceans, Mr. Aitken said that the focus was more on the dynamic ecosystem of the ocean, using the pavilions as “these enormous optical lenses.”
He plans to use the pavilions as the touchstones for a 24-hour music-and-performance-fueled “happening” the weekend of Nov. 5 nearby at the Catalina Casino, easily the most visible and glamorous landmark on the island. He also plans to make a short film using footage from cameras embedded in the pavilions, to be added this fall to his museum survey, “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth.”